Shaw’s Oyster Bar

It’s been a while since my husband and I went out for dinner during the week. We just didn’t feel like cooking this week and wanted something casual in the River North neighborhood. We decided to try Shaw’s Oyster Bar which is just around the corner from the Hampton! When we walked in, there were numerous high-top tables situated throughout the bar area and a definite buzz and feeling of excitement flowing throughout the restaurant. Overall, a great exciting first impression. We were greeted and promptly seated.

Oyster Bar

Oyster Bar

Our server approached our table within the first two minutes after we had sat down. His attire was crisp and professional – a black vest, black tie, black pants, and white shirt. His casual professionalism and overall personality made us feel welcome and excited to begin our meal. When it came time to start discussing food and drink options, he was able to answer all of our questions and gave several excellent recommendations. By the way he described the preparation and presentation of the appetizer and entrée recommendations, you could tell he had a great knowledge of the menu and that he was confident answering all of our questions.

The Menu

The Menu

We started with the Godzilla Maki Roll which had six generous pieces of fresh maki made with a colorful mix of smoked salmon, avocado, shrimp tempura, and unagi accompanied by a small portion of wasabi and ginger on a white rectangular dish. Very refreshing and enjoyable overall! The overall textural balance between the crunch of the shrimp tempura and the softness of the smoked salmon, unagi, and avocado was amazing. Great appetizer option. We would 100% order this again.

I ordered the Grilled Columbia River King Salmon for an entrée. The salmon filet was served atop sautéed spinach and bacon pieces and topped with a cool heirloom tomato salsa served on a large oval plate. Great sizeable dish overall. The tenderness of the salmon filet paired extremely well with the cool crispness of the heirloom tomato salsa and the saltiness of the sautéed spinach and bacon. The tomato salsa also added a great color to the dish. Great entrée selection overall!

What is dinner without dessert? Selecting which one is always such a tough call. Shaw’s make this easy with the Dessert Sampler! Small taste portions of raspberry pie, chocolate cake, key lime pie, and crème brulee served with a small dollop of whipped cream on a long rectangular plate. Wow! A great dessert option overall! The raspberry pie and whipped cream were very refreshing and sweet. The chocolate cake was very rich and decadent overall. The key lime pie was very light, tart, and refreshing and the small dish of crème brulee very rich and flavorful and prepared perfectly with a crisp topping and cool smooth interior. Great dessert option!

The overall pace of the meal was excellent. We had enough time to savor each course without feeling rushed. Each dish was presented and prepared very well. Our server was very attentive throughout the meal and maintained the cleanliness and the order of the table. We can’t wait to go back to Shaw’s Oyster bar. This restaurant is an excellent value, the food quality and presentation is excellent overall. We really liked its fun, welcoming, and casual atmosphere.

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Fine Dining in Chicago

One of Chicago’s most elegant restaurants is Everest - located on the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange. My husband and I had the opportunity to experience Everest this past fall. We were greeted by the host who was very cordial and welcoming. He offered to take our coats as soon as we walked in. We were next greeted by the Maitre D’ who was polite and professional as she guided us to our seats. We were offered a generous assortment of fresh breads including sour dough, French, multigrain, olive, and rye presented on a tray and presented by the food runner. Bread had very crisp crust with soft center; all choices were very fresh.

Assortment of Fresh Bread

We were treated to an Amuse Bouche which contained three unique teaser portions – a small white spoon of fresh seasonal pumpkin puree sprinkled with small bits of crisp prosciutto, a small silver ladle filled with a fresh cauliflower soup, and a small white bowl filled with a thin slice of fried fluke atop a creamy slaw all presented on a long rectangular plate. Each small portion was extremely flavorful and refreshing; the fresh pumpkin was a great seasonal choice and paired very well with the saltiness and crunch of the prosciutto; the cauliflower soup was very rich and creamy; and the fried fluke and creamy slaw brought a nice familiarity to the overall presentation. This was a great way to start the experience!

For an appetizer we ordered the Roasted Main Lobster. This had a Generous portion of fresh roasted Maine lobster meat situated in a pool of Alsace Gewurztraminer butter sauce and sprinkled with ginger presented in a large white bowl. The lobster was extremely tender and flavorful overall; lobster meat paired perfectly with the richness and unique woody flavor of the Alsace butter sauce; ginger added a great subtle sweetness and a great contrast to the richness of the butter sauce.

For an entrée I ordered the Colorado Rack of Lamb. This dish had Three bone-in lamb fillets situated atop a root vegetable gratin and next to a sweet garlic flan garnished with a crisp thyme leaf and tomato and served on a large circular white dish. The overall tenderness of the lamb and the compliment with the garlic flan/vegetable gratin.

Breathtaking Views

Our experience would not have been complete without dessert! We finished with the Banana Dessert – A large square of fresh banana crème brulee containing fresh diced banana pieces bordered with a soft chocolate cake and topped with a quenelle of fresh vanilla praline ice cream and a powdered sugar coated cookie accompanied by four small drizzles of thick maple syrup sauce. Unbelievable!  Extremely rich and decadent overall; crème brulee was prepared perfectly and paired well with the moist chocolate boarder; diced banana pieces added a great textural balance within the dish as did the crispness of the crème brulee topping; fresh vanilla praline ice cream was very rich overall and added a great cool variation to the dish; maple syrup tied all ingredients together nicely and offered a great seasonal flavor. Great dessert!

The pace of the meal was excellent. Service was good and excellent very polite and professional. The server had a great attitude, and his food knowledge was impressive.

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Tru

Chicago is notorious for its culinary scene. One restaurant that puts Chicago on the map is Tru. This has been on my bucket list for a long time running. I, finally, can now to check it off my list! My husband and I had a “truly” (no pun intended) incredible experience.

We entered the restaurant and immediately focused our attention on the hostess area adjacent to the main door. The lighting in the restaurant was dark and inviting. We were immediately welcomed by a team of restaurant staff who took our coats and promptly welcomed us into the restaurant. Overall, a unique and exciting first impression.
Once our reservation was located, we were then introduced to the maitre’d and promptly shown to our table.

Our main captain approached our table within the first two minutes after we had sat down. He immediately asked if we would prefer a cocktail, glass of champagne, or view the wine list and explained that he would give us several minutes and then discuss food options and recommendations once we had made our drink selection. After we had placed our drink order and after an initial amuse bouche course, we were presented with menus. Our captain did an excellent job explaining the layout of the menu, the various menu choices, and the caviar menu.

I started with the Duck Consomme. Excellent unique presentation overall! A burner and glass device were presented at our table which contained duck consomme along with black truffle and a number of other aromatics  Once the liquid cycled back-and-forth through the glass device enough times to fully impart the dish’s unique rich flavors, the hot flavorful liquid was poured over several small foie gras ravioli pieces, small pieces of duck confit, and presented in a white bowl. The duck consomme broth was extremely flavorful, earthy, and rich overall. The foie gras ravioli and duck confit pieces added great texture and an additional layer of earthiness to the dish. Such a memorable presentation and flavors overall!

Next I tried the Atlantic Skate – a small strip of pan-seared Atlantic skate presented with small diced pieces of orange braised fennel and crispy garlic pieces on a unique white plate. A great delicate dish. The skate was prepared perfectly with a slightly crisp exterior and warm flaky interior. The orange braised fennel had a slight touch of orange which was not overpowering and paired perfectly with the delicate skate. Great delicate and flavorful first dish overall.

We finished our experience with the Campfire of S’more for dessert. Excellent presentation, textures, and flavors! A small cannelle of marshmallow ice cream presented alongside a trio of chocolate selections – one airy milk chocolate mouse, one dense frozen dark chocolate crumble, and one milk chocolate thick rich mouse presented on a long black dish. Very unique and memorable! The different chocolate variations added a great textural contrast, the marshmallow ice cream was smooth creamy and flavorful, and the overall presentation was excellent. Such a great dessert option!

Campfire of S’more

 

The overall pace of the meal was excellent. We had enough time to savor each course without feeling rushed. Each dish was presented in an extremely unique manner and the food quality was impeccable overall. The entire wait staff team did an excellent job maintaining the order of the table. Our flatware was replaced before each course, our water and wine glasses were never neglected, and the table was crumbed after each course. Overall, our wait staff team remained attentive and aware throughout the meal and maintained the cleanliness and the order of the table extremely well.

After we finished our dessert course and experienced the additional dessert cart (amazing) the table was cleared of all remaining items and the table was crumbed one final time. The check was presented in a timely manner and all items were indicated properly on the check. Overall, we had a great memorable dining experience at Tru.

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Paris Club

Studio Paris is a popular place to go out in Downtown Chicago, but I think Paris Club is discredited for how delicious their food is. I went there for dinner this past weekend with friends, and it is now one of my favorites. I recommend simply sharing their small plates. This way you can get a little taste of everything.

We started with their Drippings on Toast. This dish comes with five toasted slices of French bread situated next to a black iron bowl filled with tender brown short rib meat and an extremely flavorful short rib sauce. Wow! Great way to start the meal! The tenderness of the short rib meat paired perfectly with the crunch of the toasted French bread and the overall flavor of the sauce was meaty, salty, and delicious. Excellent selection overall!

We next tried the Lobster Crostini. Two large slices of toasted crostini pieces topped with a delicately prepared scrambled egg, large pieces of butter-poached lobster, and a light drizzle of white truffle oil. Incredible! This was by far the most memorable dish of the night. Each of the ingredients complimented one another perfectly. The smooth tender scrambled egg paired extremely well with the snap of the fresh lobster meat and the crunch of the crostini. The portion size is perfect for two people overall and the light drizzle of truffle oil added that great earthy aroma and flavor. If you go with a group I recommend ordering a few. Excellent! I would 100% order this again.

Next was the Paris Chopped Chicken Salad – A Large portion of chicken chopped salad which included fresh iceberg and romaine lettuce, fresh green avocado slices, tender chicken pieces, halved grape tomatoes, green onion, cauliflower, croutons, and served with a sweet vinaigrette in a white bowl. Great fresh salad option overall! The crunch of the lettuce, tomatoes, croutons, and onion paired nicely with the tender chicken and the creamy smooth avocado slices. The addition of cauliflower was a unique touch to a common dish and complimented the other ingredients well. The sweet vinaigrette paired perfectly with the fresh salad ingredients and gave the dish a great sweet flavor. Excellent!

We went on to try their Tuna Tartare – An appetizer portion of fresh pink tuna tartare mixed with fresh green mint leaves, arugula, diced avocado, and tossed in a light vinaigrette and served on a white plate. Exceptional light refreshing dish overall. The fresh tuna pieces paired extremely well with the smooth creamy avocado and the lightness of the sauce added a great sweetness to the dish without being overwhelming.

We finished our meal with the Cheese Plate for dessert. Two long slices of toasted French bread situated next to three cheese selections – blue cheese, a light goat cheese, and a hard cow’s milk selection – accompanied by nuts and small slices of fresh fig. Excellent presentation overall. Each of the elements complimented one another well in both flavor and texture. Great way to end the meal!

I would 100% return to Paris Club. This restaurant is an excellent value, the food quality and presentation is excellent overall, and it is a fun, welcoming, and elegant atmosphere. Can’t wait to go back soon!

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Hub 51

It was date night last Friday night! We decided to head over to Hub 51 – just steps from the Hampton! We entered the restaurant and immediately noticed the buzz from the bar area and a feeling of excitement flowing throughout the restaurant. Overall, a great exciting first impression.

We were seated, and our server approached our table right away. Her casual professionalism and overall personality made us feel welcome and excited to begin our meal. When it came time to start discussing food and drink options, she was able to answer all of our questions and gave several excellent recommendations. By the way she described the preparation and presentation of the appetizer and entrée recommendations, you could tell she had a great knowledge of the menu and that she was confident answering all of our questions.

 We started with the Del Mar Seafood Salad to share. There was a large portion of seafood salad which included fresh iceburg lettuce, poached shrimp and peekytoe crab, radicchio, green beans, jicama, red pepper, celery, edamame, carrots, and tomatoes served with a thick vinaigrette on a large white circular plate. Great fresh salad option overall! The crunch of the lettuce, tomato, radicchio, jicima, celery, carrots, and green beans paired nicely with the tender shrimp, crab, and edamame. The vinaigrette paired perfectly with the fresh salad ingredients and gave the dish a great sweet flavor. Excellent starter selection and perfect for two people.

 Next I tried their Fish Tacos – seasoned Mahi Mahi filet served with fresh corn tortillas, a green chili salsa, fresh diced tomatoes, guacamole, white rice, black beans, and a creamy cabbage slaw and served on a large white oval dish. The tender Mahi Mahi was seasoned extremely well with a unique baja rub and paired perfectly with the creamy cabbage slaw. The fresh green chili salsa complimented the fish and slaw and brought a slightly spicy and very unique flavor to the dish. Great flavors and textures overall!

 The overall pace of the meal was excellent. We had enough time to savor each course without feeling rushed. This restaurant is an excellent value, the food quality and presentation is excellent overall, and it is a fun, welcoming, and elegant atmosphere. The pricing is very reasonable for the quality of food presented and the location of the restaurant in Chicago.

 

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Hampton to host charitable event this evening

Today, Thursday September 20th, 2012, the Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly Young Professionals Advisory Board will host an event at the Hampton Inn & Suites Chicago Downtown from 6:00pm to 9:00pm.  The event titled “engAge,” is a fundraising event benefiting Chicagoland Seniors. The mission of the Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly is to provide services and companionship for the Elderly that may not have close social connections, i.e. family or friends, due to death or distance.

A silent raffle, along with refreshments and music will be enjoyed by all patrons this evening. If you would like to learn more about the event, please click here. engAge is open to people 21+ years of age.

We hope to see you at the Hampton Inn & Suites Chicago Downtown! The event will be on the 2nd floor in the Daniel Burnham Room. 100% of the proceeds go directly to Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly.

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Shakespeare in the Park: A welcome [new] tradition for Park Districts

This summer I had the opportunity of attending one of the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre “Shakespeare in the Park” productions in conjunction with the Chicago Park District and Boeing. The concept is to bring professional productions, such as The Taming of the Shrew, free of charge to Park Districts throughout the city so masses can enjoy. A new sort of summer tradition, if you will. The Summer 2012 schedule ran from North of the City at Welles Park to South of the City at Ridge Park, making classic drama accessible to all. Stellar acting lends a new take on Shakespeare.

Although the productions are done for the summer, keep an eye out for the 2013 season. It’s a great non-traditional tourist attraction while visiting the city. Plus did I mention it’s FREE? So pack a picnic and bring a bottle of wine, it’s perfectly acceptable. The Red Line El train, located 1 block from the Hampton Inn & Suites Chicago Downtown, makes transportation to and from select Park Districts easy! To receive information on upcoming Shakespeare in the Park locations and productions, sign up for the email blasts, follow the hashtag #ShakesInTheParks on Twitter, or “like” them on Facebook.

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Pizzaria Via Stato

My husband and I were feeling something casual for date night last Friday but still wanted something delicious. We thought we’d try Pizzaria Via Stato right on State Street just a around the corner from the Hampton Inn & Suites. As we entered Pizzeria Via Stato through the main outdoor entry-way, we were drawn into the buzz and excitement from the tables situated throughout the outdoor seating area at once. The tables were full of various thin-crust pizzas, salads, and appetizers making us extremely excited to sit down and start our experience. We were immediately welcomed by the hostess and promptly shown to our table.

Our server approached our table within two minutes of being seated. We were unfamiliar with many of the wine and cocktail selections, and he kindly offered some of his favorite recommendations which was appreciated. When it came time to discuss dinner options, he did a great job describing the preparation and presentation of the specials. Overall, a great first impression.

We started with the Chopped Salad  with tender chicken pieces, iceberg lettuce, halved grape tomatoes, crunchy house-made croutons, avocado, celery, parmesan cheese, and a tangy mustard vinaigrette. Very refreshing overall! The crunch of the croutons, lettuce, red peppers, and crisp grape tomatoes paired very well with the tender chicken and creamy avocado. The tangy mustard vinaigrette brought all of the flavors together nicely and gave the salad a great underlying citrus flavor. Great sizeable appetizer portion overall.

Chopped Salad

We then tried their monthly special pizza – a small thin-crust pizza topped with sweet spring onions, robiola and mozzarella cheeses, and a farm fresh egg and served on a large silver dish. Excellent crunch, saltiness, and sweetness overall. The crust was prepared perfectly with a crisp slightly charred exterior. The saltiness of the robiola and mozzarella cheeses and the richness of the farm egg paired extremely well with the sweetness of the fresh spring onions. The pizza had a great unique combination of flavors and textures.

We finished our experience with the Gelato Trio. This came with three small white dishes filled with three different kinds of house-made gelato – vanilla, chocolate hazelnut, and burnt caramel all dusted with powdered sugar on a large white plate. Excellent selections overall! Each gelato selection was fresh and complimented one another very well. Great dessert option!

Anyone looking to have a fun and relaxing dining experience would love Pizzaria Via Stato. The pricing is very reasonable for the quality of food presented and the location of the restaurant.

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Mystic Blue in Chicago

Gone are the heavy jackets, gloves, snow boots, and frozen faces of Chicago winter. Summer is upon us and citizens are wearing shorts, sporting flip flops and even, dare I say, getting sunburned! Recently I had the opportunity of experiencing one of the best kept secrets in Chicago tourism. An attraction that is perfect for summer, especially with this lovely weather we Chicagoans have been having as of late. The Mystic Blue Boat Cruise allows an exciting, fresh perspective for exploring the city.

The Mystic Blue Boat cruise departs from Navy Pier. I boarded the Mystic Blue on a Saturday evening for a friend’s birthday party. I didn’t really know what to expect, as I had never been on a cruise of Lake Michigan. I was immediately greeted by the Captain and Crew and knew it was going to be a fun night! The Mystic Blue has 3 enclosed, climate controlled decks, with dinner and dancing on the main level. Dinner was served buffet style and consisted of a specialty fish entree, pasta, potatoes, vegetables and more. On this particular cruise there was a cash bar for any Guests looking to “wet their whistle.” Guests are free to roam about the ship and are advised to eat at their leisure. Shortly after the majority of patrons dined, a dessert buffet was set with everything from cheesecake to fondue with marshmallow’s and rice krispies on skewers. All the while, a DJ played music and encouraged guests to dance, the Crew even performed a special choreographed number, which was very entertaining. Later in the evening, fireworks from Navy Pier were seen by all. The observation desk upstairs provided a great view of the city skyline at night. It truly was a unique experience that I would recommend to any guest or visitor to the Chicago area.

Chicago Skyline

To get to Navy Pier and The Mystic Blue Boat Cruise from the Hampton Inn & Suites Chicago Downtown, you may either take a cab, walk, or utilize the Free Shuttle service (inquire at the Front Desk for details). A cab will take about 5 to 10 minutes to reach your destination, or if it’s nice outside a leisurely walk is only about 1 mile from the hotel. If walking, head east on W. Illinois St. toward N. State St. Continue N. onto Streeter Dr. Keep right at the fork. By this point you will see Navy Pier. Turn right onto E. Grand Ave. Your destination will be halfway down the pier on the right.

Schedule and pricing can be obtained here.

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